The setting of “Safe” is a random, barely colonized planet in the ‘verse, which doesn’t do the episode any favors in terms of being interesting. The backwoods mindset of Outer Planet hicks is expounded upon, as are River’s powers, but the predictable “which member of my crew do I save” plot isn’t up to the series’ powerful standard.
Best Moment: It’s a tie between River’s dance sequence and the unrealized hints that Shepard Book might be way more than he appears to be.
“Jaynestown” feels like a B-side from a really good album that would probably be a decent song had it not been released alongside a bunch of other amazing tracks. It’s funny and tells us a little bit about Jayne, but the outlandish “mudder” society and the cartoonish villainy of the plantation owner are too cut-and-dry for a series with Firefly’s complexity.
Best Moment: “The hero of Canton, the man we call Jaaaaaayne!”
12. “War Stories”
While “War Stories” gives the audience some much-needed insight into Zoe and Wash’s relationship (and Zoe and Mal’s relationship, and Wash and Mal’s relationship…there are a lot of relationships on this ship), it feels like filler between better episodes that do more to advance the plot.
Best Moment: When River unleashes her River-ness on a troop of invaders and delivers one of the series’ most iconic lines.
It’s usually a good thing to get Christina Hendricks to guest star twice in one season, but this episode felt like a Saffron overdose. The crew had a few great moments in planning and executing a brilliant heist, but spending so much time on the backstory of a character who probably should have not shown up again until the hypothetical second season was gratuitous.
Best Moment: Naked Captain Mal in the middle of the desert.
10. “The Train Job”
Mal and Zoe’s moral code is exposed in this episode and the events set up some of the plot points that factor in later on in the season, but “The Train Job” feels like an expository episode. It has its good moments and does a good job developing the complicated relationships between crew members, but otherwise not much gets done.
Best Moment: “I was aiming for his head.”
One of the series’ scarier episodes, Bushwhacked introduces the concept of Reavers but doesn’t get around to doing much else. Because the show’s run was so short, several scenes that contained information meant for a bigger reveal in later seasons seems superfluous and out-of-place in the episode.
Best Moment: Wash and Zoe’s different takes on what “privacy” means regarding their marriage.
Ah, the one that started it all. Seeing as this episode had to establish a complex futuristic universe, introduce a diverse cast of characters, develop their relationships, and set off an overarching plotline that carries the greatest ever season of television— it had a hell of a job to do. And it worked!
Best Moment: The first time you ever heard that beautiful, beautiful theme song.
7. “The Message”
This is another episode that is brought up by its guest star. Whedon favorite Jonathan M. Woodward does a fantastic job playing everyone’s favorite reanimated-dead-body-turned-hijacker. “The Message” is also notable for the appearance of the Jayne hat and the only real spaceship chase scene we get in the series.
Best Moment: Pretty much everything about Woodward’s performance.
6. “Heart of Gold”
Remember when a makeshift army of sex workers whipped out a bunch of guns and fought for their bodily autonomy against an overtly capitalist, heterosexist world leader whose resources outnumbered and outpowered them? Remember when they won? Goddamn, when Brett Matthews is on he is ON.
Best Moment: Petaline shoots the vile Burgess in the head, execution style, while carrying her child on her hip, mere minutes after giving birth. “Say goodbye to your Daddy, Jonah.”
5. “Our Mrs. Reynolds”
As the guest star to end all guest stars, Christina Hendricks absolutely kills it in this episode. Her easy transition from weepy, sheltered wifey to near-psychotic killing machine is an amazing bit of acting, and the rest of the cast is made better by her presence.
Best Moment: When Shepard Book warns Mal about going to the “special hell.”
Mal and Inara’s bizarre but ultimately caring relationship is on display in this episode in, as is the weirdly stratified world of Alliance high society. We get to see Captain Tightpants himself seamlessly blend in with a crowd of snobby lords, and Kaylee gets to explore her previously ignored feminine side with a pouffy pink dress and ribbons.
Best Moment: The space cows make for a great visual, and sort of sum up the weirdo Western/Sci-Fi blend that makes Firefly so special.
“Ariel” is a visually stunning episode, as the too-shiny and vaguely sinister world of the core planets is finally shown on screen. Simon shines as he finds himself back in his old role as a respected surgeon, and Jayne’s jealousy and greed comes to a hyper-climactic head.
Best Moment: Mal more than threatens to leave Jayne to die in the reaches of outer space to protect the Tams. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the captain, I don’t know what else will.
2. “Objects in Space”
Firefly’s last episode (insert fan sobs here) is interesting because it focuses on a one-off character: Jubal Early, the sadistic, effective, and darkly funny bounty hunter who terrorizes the crew of Serenity over the course of one freaky, dangerous night. We also get to see what life is like from the perspective of River’s paranormal powers, which clears up a lot about her behavior over the course of the season.
Best Moment: Simon apparently surrendering the last of the shits he had to give about his life and going all-out sass on Jubal.
1. “Out of Gas”
“Out of Gas” is a fan favorite and for good reason. Its flashback sequences give us much-desired information on how Serenity’s ragtag crew came together, it’s beautifully shot and directed, and the takeaway — that Serenity symbolizes the freedom Mal craves in an unfair ‘verse that he failed to change— provides pathos for the entire season.
Best Moment: Wash’s mustache.